By Sarah Royston
There’s a wood in Hertfordshire that’s not on any map. I went there once when I was lost, looking for Lullaby Lane. It was bluebell time, the hedges bright with may. I was on my hardtail Ridgeback, spinning down a sunken track. Where I was, I hadn't a clue - and after seven screen-hunched weeks, I frankly didn’t care. All I knew was the rush of air; the kiss of tyre and trail. Cyan glare rinsed from my eyes by waves of green and gold.
I only found it because of the doe. A flash, white as the may. I judder-skidded, stopped. There was a narrow smooth where she’d run from the path. I couldn't help but follow. I pushed through the holloway and entered the woods.
I’ve never seen bluebells, before or since, of such iridescent blue. Leaf-fluttered light danced on the drifts like moonbeams on the sea.
I noticed some things that were strange. There were no signs saying PRIVATE. No steel gates or barbed wire. Not even a game-bird feeding tub, that generous token of landowners' love.
Also, the bluebells were ringing. Not tinny chimes, but a deep, low sound, like the bells of churches long since drowned. A song half-heard, from far away.
I leaned my bike on a mossy stump, and rested beneath a yew. The tree murmured tales it had heard from the dead, in a tongue I didn’t know. The stories made me sad, so I sat by a may-tree instead. Its milky blossom drifted down into a murky pool. The petals shivered in the water, set pictures dancing on the silver-dark screen. Three sisters ran away: one to the greenwood; one to the hill; one to the endless track. They were searching for a cuckoo that sang like a child.
I dozed beneath a bluebell sky. The doe became a moon-white hare. She lay beside me, unafraid, and closed her bluebell eyes. I dreamed I was an ant that crawled over a screen. Then a burning wheel that hurtled down a hill. I dreamed the hare became a pale owl and flew away.
I don’t know how I got home. I wasn’t the same.
I quit my job; the cyan-glazy hours seemed unreal. These days I live on the track. It’s pointless, of course – some places you can’t find by seeking. At least now, when I lose myself, I know what I’m looking for. A little wood in Hertfordshire that’s not on any map.
About the author:
Sarah Royston’s writing draws inspiration from nature, folklore and the landscapes of southern England. Her short fictions and poetry are published/forthcoming in Full House Lit,Crow and Cross Keys,The Hyacinth Review, Noctivagant Press, Retreat West, Bear Creek Gazette and Soor Ploom Press. She lives in Hertfordshire, UK, and in her day job works as a researcher on sustainability issues.